Johanna Nuutinen re-makes her ‘X-it’ for West Australian Ballet this season
Johanna Nuutinen made her international breakthrough with the multi-award-winning dance film Me – Story of a Performance and her contemporary solo called Hatched. Now the former Finnish National Ballet dancer and choreographer is setting her strong, very visual and physical choreography X-it for the West Australian Ballet.
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A couple of weeks before the premiere in Australia, we interviewed the choreographer in the middle of rehearsals in Perth.
Johanna, you created X-it originally eight years ago – what makes it still a topical work?
“The work draws its inspiration from the theme of being constantly under surveillance. What kind of emotions and feelings does a non-ending – and un-escapable – state of being watched stir in a person? I find that the content is even more current now in 2019 than it was in 2011 when X-it premiered at the Finnish National Ballet.
Aurelien Scanella from the West Australian Ballet saw the premiere of the production in Helsinki. He expressed his interest to bring the work to Perth already back then. Mr Scanella began his tenure as the artistic director of the company in 2013, and in 2017 he contacted and asked my interest to set the work for West Australian Ballet in 2019.
The timeline might sound long but it often is when one works with bigger companies. X-it in particular requires an extensive preliminary work period as I use film as an extension of the universe which I’m creating in a black box space.”
Visual elements are important parts of your works that could be called multidisciplinary. How was it adapting the film to new dancers and a new environment?
“The very detailed film content needs to be rehearsed and shot beforehand.
Perth is a relatively young city and many of the old buildings have been demolished. The team in Perth had to work hard to find spaces with a bit more history and character which was needed for the film.
We ended up shooting all the film material in Fremantle Prison. Fremantle Prison was built as a convict barracks in the 19th century and remained in continual use until 1991. As I wanted to stay true to the original scenes, the technical team even built a shower room into the former kitchen area. I’m deeply grateful that the technical crew has faced all the challenges with a brave heart.”
What is it like re-making a choreography for a different company, in a different culture?
“This is the first time I re-make the piece for another company. The content of the scenes and the movement material went through such a strong filter back in 2011 that although years have passed and I’ve grown as an artist, I’m happy to use the original movement compositions.
It also suits this particular company very well. Dancers at West Australian Ballet have a strong classical base but they are eager and capable to stretch that technique towards more versatile movement. The motion itself might not take a classical form, but what happens within the body often draws inspiration from that technique. The energy lines and spirals within the body, limbs gathering and extending themselves from the center, the use of the thoracic spine, awareness of the extremities… Those dimensions of movement are present also in the classical ballet technique when it’s used at its best. As well as in healthy, sustainable and enjoyable movement in general.
In Perth I have four weeks to set the material for the dancers. In the Autumn last year we had two weeks of rehearsals and three days to shoot the 26 minutes of film material. I’m able to work with the dancers for 2 to 2 1/2 hours each day. The time limit and tight schedule also made the decision to stay with the original compositions more practical.”
The body and bold visual worlds are the driving forces in all my works.
How have your works developed since X-it, and are there some elements that remain?
“Since X-it was created I have used film in other works as well and challenged the creative teams with bigger visual worlds.
The physical creation process itself has naturally evolved from those days. Nowadays I use more task based approaches which give more room for the performers to gain ownership of their role in the production. This in addition to investigating the emotions and physicality of the work within my own body and composing structures from that material.
I also give more room to the whole creative team. Although I always like to prepare myself well, instead of going into the first meeting with a ready-made plan of the whole production, I listen first the artists I have invited to collaborate with me and come with a more developed idea maybe to the next gathering.
The themes of my latest independent works have also investigated more tender issues and qualities, wider range of movement dynamics and levels of presence.
However, working with repertoire companies has its own realities which have to be taken into account. When I’m being approached by a company that wants me to present a project proposal I always first want to find out what kind of a choreographic toolbox the dancers are used to working with. It is also very important to know how much time do we have to create or set the piece. These two elements set the boundaries for the creation process.
No matter which type of toolbox I choose to use or from which background the performers come from, the body and bold visual worlds are the driving forces in all my works.”
What & when
X-it / In-Synch
at Ballet at the Quarry, Perth Festival, by West Australian Ballet
from February 8 – March 2, 2019
Place: The Quarry Amphitheatre – City Beach
Dancer-choreographer Johanna Nuutinen graduated from the Finnish National Opera Ballet school in 2002. In 2002 she became a member of the Finnish National Ballet and created a successful career with the company while dancing soloist parts in works by Ohad Naharin, William Forsythe, Johan Inger, Jacobo Godani, Sylvie Guillem, John Neumeier, Jorma Elo and Jorma Uotinen among others, as well as created her own productions to the stage and on film.
In 2017 Johanna received a three year artist grant from the Finnish Cultural Foundation and at the moment she works as a freelance artist. Her works Hatched, Iris and Me–Story of a Performance have been presented at several international dance and film festivals. Her latest work ANON–The Act of Waiting had a premiere in November 2018 at Viirus Theatre in Helsinki.